‘Truly Radical’ – EVANGELISM
- What is Evangelism?
The word ‘evangelism’ is perhaps the least favourite word for most Christians. It often conjures up fear and guilt – fear of what will happen if I try and guilt that because of my fear I don’t try!
Much of this fear stems from associating ‘evangelism’ with a particular methodology that most people feel unable to do, the result is that they think evangelism should be left to the professionals!
The result of this is that there are now millions upon millions of people growing up in a world where they are never hearing about Jesus. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy!
The ‘Truly Radical’ meaning of ‘Evangelism’.
To get to grips with the real meaning of this word it is helpful to try to forget all of the ways that you have seen or heard about evangelism taking place and think, for a moment, about the word itself.
It is quite a strange sounding word in the English language and that is because it is not an English word – it is a Greek word that has been adapted, rather than translated, into the English language.
The New Testament is written in Greek and if we are to really understand what the word ‘evangelism’ means it is helpful to simply look at the meaning of 2 Greek words that have been put together to make this word.
The first part is the two letter word EV which means good or blessed*
The second part is the word ANGEL, which means message. The ‘Angels’ frequently bring messages – they are messengers.
*(The EV would read EU if not followed by a vowel).
As such, the word EVANGEL simply means blessed message or GOOD NEWS!
EVANGELism is simply telling people good news.
You have probably met many people who engage in Evangelism about things that have nothing to do with Jesus. For example – have you ever been shown a selection of photographs by a proud new grandparent!? They are sharing Good News with you, they are engaging in EVANGELISM! But their message is not about Jesus.
EVANGELism is telling Good News and, in scripture it is more fully explained as the Good News of the Kingdom of God – the gospel.
The Good News of the gospel provides us with the content of this good news – it is about Jesus!
Mark begins his gospel by writing in chapter 1 verse 1:
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”.
The ‘good news’ in English is the EVANGEL in Greek!
At the very end of his gospel he writes:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’”
Once again, the ‘good news’ in English is the EVANGEL in Greek!
If we are being truly radical we will see that EVANGELism is something that every Christian can do – pass on the good news about who Jesus is and what he has done!
How we have come to interpret it.
For many Christians, the word evangelism doesn’t suggest just sharing the good news about Jesus. They feel an enormous pressure to engage in things that they cannot do and conclude that evangelism isn’t their thing.
I will always remember speaking to a group of leaders at an event in the UK a number of years ago. I asked the group to say the first word that came into their mind when they hear the word evangelism. Without a moments delay one of the leaders, sitting in the very front row, called out in a really loud voice – ‘Terrified’. Everybody laughed and I said, ‘ok, one brave person has been honest enough to admit how this word makes them feel, does anybody else feel the same?’ Almost every other leader in the hall raised their hand in agreement.
On this, and so many other occasions I have asked myself the question: ‘Why are so many Christians so terrified of evangelism’?
My conclusion is that we associate the word evangelism with particular methods that the church has used. These include such things as:
- Open Air Preaching.
- Door-to-door visitation. (Usually built around a programme of very specific and complex training).
There are Christians who have the gifting to preach on the streets and to become involved in organised evangelistic visitation programs. That is great but most Christians do not have these gifts or even if they do have them, have never discovered them because the prospect of standing on a street corner or knocking on the door of complete strangers is just too terrifying. The conclusion reached by many therefore is ‘I can’t do evangelism’. What the person means is ‘I can’t preach on a street corner or knock on the doors of strangers’. That is not the same as not being able to engage in evangelism because these methods are only a couple of ways of doing this and they are not always the most effective.
Being Truly Radical about Evangelism means seeing that the well known methods that churches have used are not the only way for us to engage in evangelism.
How can we become ‘Truly Radical’ in evangelism?
I have mentioned above that we often associate evangelism with methods that we find terrifying. In the scriptures we read that there are many different ways of sharing the good news or, to put it another way, ‘engaging in EVANGELism’.
In the book of Acts there are 7 words that are used to describe the activity of sharing the good news (evangel) these words, when translated into English, mean:
- Sharing good news
As the list above demonstrates ‘Evangelism’ wasn’t a method. In reality the passing on of the good news was achieved by using any number of methods. They did what was most appropriate in the situation that they found themselves. Sometimes this was direct preaching, other times they discussed and entered into dialogue with people. On other occasions they explained the gospel in answer to questions and sometimes they were clearly persuasive in the ways that they shared the good news.
Being truly radical about evangelism means seeing that scripture doesn’t present us with a formula or methodology of how we should engage in EVANGELism. It shows us that we can share good news in a whole variety of situations and in many different ways. This means that God can use each one of us, just as we are, to pass on the good news to people that we are among. But we cant do this on our own, we all need the Holy Spirit and He will be the subject of my next article.
Questions for reflection?
- How do I react to the word evangelism?
- What teaching/experiences have caused me to react in this way?
- What opportunities are there for me to pass on the good news about Jesus?
- What am I going to do to begin to share the good news with people who don’t know Jesus?
- What do I see God doing that He is inviting me to join Him in?